Role Film producer
Name Dawn Steel
|Years active 1979–1997|
Other names Steel Dawn The Tank
Children Rebecca Steel Roven
|Full Name Dawn Leslie Steel|
Born August 19, 1946 (1946-08-19) The Bronx, New York U.S.
Education Boston University New York University
Occupation Film studio executive Film producer
Known for Flashdance Top Gun Fatal Attraction
Died December 20, 1997, Los Angeles, California, United States
Spouse Charles Roven (m. 1985–1997)
Books They Can Kill You..but They Can't Eat You, They Can Kill You But They Can
Movies City of Angels, Cool Runnings, Fallen, Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit, Honey - I Blew Up the Kid
Similar People Charles Roven, Dana Stevens, Edward S Feldman, Michael Goldberg, Brad Silberling
Dawn Leslie Steel (August 19, 1946 – December 20, 1997) was one of the first women to run a major Hollywood film studio, rising through the ranks of merchandising and production to head Columbia Pictures.
- Early life
- Paramount Pictures
- Columbia Pictures
- Steel Pictures
- Atlas Entertainment
- Personal life
- Works and publications
Steel was born in the Bronx, New York to Nathan "Nat" Steel (ne Spielberg), a zipper salesman to the military and semi-professional weight lifter called the "Man of Steel," and Lillian Steel (née Tarlow), a businesswoman. She grew up in Manhattan and in Great Neck, New York, according to her autobiography. She had one sibling, a brother, Larry Steel.
Both of her parents were of Russian-Jewish descent. When she was 9 years old, Steel's father suffered a nervous breakdown, so her mother was the family's sole support.
Steel attended the School of Business Administration at Boston University from 1964 to 1965, but left due to money problems. She attended New York University from 1966 to 1967, studying marketing, but did not graduate.
In 1968, Steel worked as a sportswriter for Major League Baseball Digest and the NFL in New York.
In 1968, after starting out as a secretary, Steel became merchandising director for Penthouse.
In 1975, she founded a merchandising company that produced novelty items such as designer logo toilet paper called Oh Dawn! Inc. One of the products she created was Gucci-logo embellished toilet paper. Within months the Gucci family sued Steel for copyright infringement. Steel hired attorney Sid Davidoff, a former top aide to Mayor John Lindsay. The case was in the news as "toilet paper caper" and was the subject of an editorial cartoon. The case was settled out of court.
In 1978, Steel moved to Los Angeles, working as a merchandising consultant for Playboy.
In 1978, Steel sold her interest in the Oh Dawn! merchandising business to her ex-husband and asked Davidoff to place a call to Hollywood. Davidoff made an introduction to Richard Weston, who ran Paramount Pictures' merchandising unit. In 1978, Steel joined Paramount Pictures as Director of Merchandising and Licensing, where she planned marketing tie-ins for Star Trek: The Motion Picture. She was promoted to Vice President, and then Vice President of Production in 1980, Senior Vice President of Production in 1983. She was a protege of Barry Diller, who was CEO of Paramount at the time.
After becoming President of Production at Paramount in 1985, Steel was responsible for the making of Flashdance, her first hit film. She then greenlit Fatal Attraction, Footloose, Beverly Hills Cop, and Top Gun amongst others. She became vice president of production in 1980 and production chief in 1985. Steel was the second woman to head a major film production department (the first being Sherry Lansing at Twentieth-Century Fox and the third being Nina Jacobson at Buena Vista).
Steel became president of Columbia Pictures in 1987. She was the first woman studio head. Under her tenure the studio released When Harry Met Sally which had been developed and produced independently by Castle Rock productions. Steel's brief two-year tenure was marked by continued turmoil and losses, continuing a string of bad news begun under David Puttnam before her appointment. She was asked to leave the studio in 1989 and shortly thereafter Coca-Cola spun off the studio and exited the movie business; Columbia was thereafter sold to Sony Corporation of Japan. She resigned from this position on January 8, 1990.
In 1990, Steel formed Steel Pictures in a production deal at The Walt Disney Company. She left Disney in 1993 after making two films, 1993's Cool Runnings, a comedy about the Jamaican bobsled team, and Sister Act 2: Back in the Habit. Cool Runnings was her first Disney film as a producer.
In 1994, Steel formed Atlas Entertainment with husband Charles Roven and Bob Cavallo. They had a three-year first look deal with Turner Pictures. Her final two films were Fallen and City of Angels.
In 1993, she wrote a memoir, They Can Kill You But They Can't Eat You, which described her time at Columbia. In the book Steel describes finding out – after giving birth to her daughter – that she was fired as President of Production at Paramount.
In her obituary for The New York Times, Nora Ephron said:
"Dawn certainly wasn't the first woman to become powerful in Hollywood, but she was the first woman to understand that part of her responsibility was to make sure that eventually there were lots of other powerful women. She hired women as executives, women as producers and directors, women as marketing people. The situation we have today, with a huge number of women in powerful positions, is largely because of Dawn Steel."
Steel's career at Paramount as Chief of Production was referenced in the HBO series Entourage, in the Season Three (2006) episode "What About Bob?", when fictional producer Bob Ryan asks Ari Gold whether Dawn Steel would still be working there, to which Ari replies: "Bob, Dawn Steel died nine years ago."
In 1989, Steel was awarded the Women in Film Crystal Award for outstanding women who, through their endurance and the excellence of their work, have helped to expand the role of women within the entertainment industry.
Steel's father changed the family surname from "Spielberg" before her birth. The name Steel was chosen to reflect her father's weightlifting career.
In 1975, Steel married Ronnie Rothstein, a former business partner in the Oh Dawn! merchandising company. She dated young struggling actor Richard Gere in 1975 and director Martin Scorsese (after his divorce from Isabella Rossellini) in 1983.
In 1985, she married film producer Charles Roven with whom she had a daughter, Rebecca Steel Roven, in 1987.
In April 1996, at age 50, Steel was diagnosed with brain cancer and ultimately died in December 1997 after a 20-month battle against the disease. Her film City of Angels was dedicated to her memory.